Saturday, March 22, 2003 by

As a child growing up watching television with a fanatical fervour in the early 1970′s, I came to hate only one thing – Saturday afternoons beyond the football results as this inevitably would mean only one thing – the frickin’ rinky-dink Pink Panther. Oh, how I hated that show. I may have cursed The Golden Shot as Bernie The Bolt trembled his talent to the nation on a Sunday afternoon and I just might have dry-boaked at the asinine antics of The Black and White Minstrel Show on a regular basis but, even to a child, a redeeming factor could always be found somewhere in them, some shaft of light to pierce even the deepest, dullest gloom.

But the Pink Panther I truly despised. This, I now realise, was the televisual equivalent of a black hole. As soon as the first few bars of the cloyingly banal theme tune emanated from the screen, you could be guaranteed that every kid on the street would be out in an instant. Even the geekiest of kids, the über-nerd despised it. And I should know, for I was one of that tribe of toffs. It truly sucked. The legacy of it was that I have never ever considered watching television between 5pm and 7pm of a Saturday evening. Even now, a quarter of a century later, I still find it impossible to associate those two hours with television. It’s down time – that period of time when I iron or write or do absolutely anything to keep me away from TV and the hideous, horrible memory of the Pink Panther.

Now, however, thanks to the crazy world of schedulers, comes a programme to redeem that piece of my locked away childhood and reclaim the down time. Hell, Monk is free therapy for me. At last, the licence fee delivers! Showcasing the wonderful acting talents of Tony Shalhoub, Monk may be cliché ridden, derivative of the genre and not exactly pushing back the boundaries of police drama but it marvellously rises above all of this to deliver a genuinely entertaining and enjoyable slice of Saturday afternoon television. And that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.

Right let’s get the Q word out of the road immediately. Every single review I’ve come across thus far of Monk has mentioned it. Quirky. Insofar as the eponymous hero suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, a variety of phobias then – to a certain degree – Monk is arguably quirky. But rather, he has quirks and kinks that differentiate him. But lazy slag reviewer labelling (See the person! Not the illness!) aside, it would appear that we have yet another gifted but burnt-out renegade cop to contend with. As I said all the usual clichés are here – the hate/tolerate relationship with his Captain, the god-dammed pen pushers at City Hall, a central character seeking redemption after the (still unsolved!) death of his wife, cooky assistant ad infinitum. The list, like the beat goes on.

But the writers and cast manage to take this ménage à trois of Jonathan Creek meets Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets meets the archetypal clichéd cop show and mould it together to give us a thoroughly entertaining slice of hokum. This is how the Three Detectives would be if they grew up. Indeed, in Monk there is more than a little of Jupiter. With a wonderful cast full of excellent supporting roles, Monk has the potential to be a must-see gem of a show. The highlight, undoubtedly, is a strong central performance from Shalhoub as our hero. Beautifully judged, Shalhoub manages to portray the phobias and disorders of Monk whilst still displaying a wonderful manchild idiot savant edge that never veers towards the sickly or the unbelievable. This, in turn, allows the other main characters to develop their relationship with Monk without resorting to cliché or contempt.

So, thanks then Monk. Now I can watch the football results trail safe in the knowledge that, at long last, I can forego the onerous task of hitting the red button on my remote control to silence the goggle box for an hour or two. Perhaps after you’ve solved the tricky riddles and enigmatic cases that are coming your way – as well as the death of your wife – if you’ve got time, you could investigate the mystery of the popularity of the Pink Panther. It still sure as hell baffles me.


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